Giving Back to the Future

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Common Dreams

Giving Back to the Future

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night; he was alive as you and me — although that’s not saying much anymore. Maybe it’s a dose of 2012 cynicism creeping in, but it’s hard to shake the escalating feeling that we’re here merely on borrowed time. The strangest part of this sensation is that if one said it openly even just a few short years ago, it may have seemed irrational and alarmist; now, with empirical observations and the grim predictions of most credible scientists firmly in hand, it seems more irrational not to hold the view that the paradigm in which we’ve been living is rapidly approaching its prophesied closure point.

This does not, of course, relieve us of the obligation to get up every day and keep trying to promote the values of peace and justice in our lives, communities, bioregions, and the larger world. The apocalypse is perhaps the ultimate “off day,” but that doesn’t mean it’s also a day off. Whatever the ineluctable combination of fate and free will has in store for us mere mortals, it remains incumbent upon us to roll up our sleeves and work to avert the self-inflicted cataclysm we’ve been relentlessly courting. Or, at the least, we might strive to appreciate the blessings we’ve enjoyed and pass through the eye with love in our hearts and a song in our souls.

After all, why not? If we could do even that much, I surmise that the days ahead might not turn out so bad in the first place. Establishing a predominant ethos of “compassion and beauty” in our outlooks and livelihoods gets pretty close to the root of the matter and could be the ticket for righting the ship in the nick of time. The good news is that we already know how to do this, and once it takes hold it will likely “go viral” (to use the modern vernacular). Us hominids have lived in relative harmony with each other and the world around us for more of our time here than we’ve been egocentric, militaristic dominators. The post-industrial arc that is pushing to the limit the planet’s capacity to continue supporting us is but a mere blip in the cosmic spectrum of existence, even in the time span of our brief human experiment.

I don’t want to sugarcoat this by any means. Simply being kind and appreciating the wonder of it all won’t apply the brakes to our collective immolation overnight. We also need to immediately wean ourselves off the consumer addictions that have turned most of us into the agents of our own destruction, and we likewise need to promptly abandon both the hardware and software of devastation with which we’ve laced the culture. Dismantling the weapons of war and violence may be easier than abolishing hatred and aggression, but the two go hand-in-hand (much like capitalism and militarism), and have become mutually reinforcing over time. The act cultivates the attitude, and vice-versa.

Again, there’s good news to be found here as well. The very same processes that create positive feedback loops in our economic and political arrangements, and in our ideologies and actions, can also be made to yield mutually supporting “good” results as well. Greater appreciation for the environment lessens our rampant consumption, and transcending our imposed identities as consumers opens up the prospect of being co-creators instead. Being purveyors of peace creates fewer conflicts around us, and fewer “hotspots” in turn promotes greater feelings of peaceableness. Experiencing relationships based on trust and mutual aid cultivates instincts toward greater trustworthiness and adduces behavior motivated beyond the narrow confines of egocentrism and unbridled self-interest.

In this sense, a potential “self-fulfilling apocalypse” can just as likely become a self-fulfilling utopia. It won’t be easy, and it will require a reinvigorated spirit of sacrifice and collective responsibility; it will also demand of us an eternal vigilance in order to keep the positive feedback loop, well, “positive.” Whatever the challenges, they pale before the ones already beginning to manifest in our midst. In the end, we can either choose to alter course and turn crisis into opportunity, or have the same (for all intents and purposes) imposed upon us by the inescapable laws of nature. I for one prefer the former.

What will the future hold? On the occasional clear night, I can almost see it in my mind’s eye. People work for sustenance and pleasure; education and labor are intertwined lifelong pursuits; children are reared collaboratively and joyfully; wealth is measured in relationships and one’s willingness to share. The basics of food, water, and energy are firmly entrenched as the collective assets of humankind, and in even more enlightened terms are no longer seen as resources to be consumed but rather as blessings for which to be grateful. Tools replace technologies, actual people supplant abstract politics, conflicts are welcomed as “teachable moments,” and the virtues of meaning supersede the value of money. The planet’s inherent regenerative processes are celebrated as mechanistic thinking falls into disrepute. Humans willingly take their place among the vast web of life, not in relegation but in celebration. Violence in any manner is an extreme aberration, and is treated restoratively so as not to beget more.

We can get back to this future. We MUST get back to this future, for the sake of ourselves and our progeny. Perhaps, in the end, it’s simply a matter of making peace with the generations yet to come…

Randall Amster

Randall Amster, JD, PhD, is Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University, and serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. His recent books include Peace Ecology (Paradigm Publishers, 2014), Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012), Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness; and the co-edited volumes  Exploring the Power of Nonviolence: Peace, Politics, and Practice (Syracuse University Press, 2013) and Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action.

 

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